Edinburgh Fringe: Day 1
Wed Aug 13 2008
The weather yesterday was, as they say here, shit. Cold and rainy. Perfect for hiding away in a black-box theater to watch comedy. Honestly, though, the fans would show up regardless of the weather.
Biggest difference between comedy in the States and in the U.K.: They appreciate it a lot more on this side of the pond. There are more than 600 comedy shows happening during the monthlong festival (in addition to theater, music and dance). Scores of them have already sold their complete runs. And several reviews run per day in each of the major local publications (I'd love to have that kind of competition in New York).
Even with all of the buzz, press and ticket sales, dozens and dozens of shows fall through the cracks. In spite of the performers' aggressive street flyering, they'll go home disappointed and in debt. Although I'd love to help them out, I'm here to see the best and brightest—and I'll still be able to catch only a few of them.
Here's what I saw last night:
In Pippa Evans and Other Lonely People, Evans finds the funny in desolation—including those who capitalize on it, hide behind it, spread it or fall prey to it. She plays six characters: a selfish group-therapy leader, a posh pharmaceutical-drug-addicted housewife, a promiscuous and upwardly mobile Russian nanny, an aggro banker gym-rat dude, a suicidal poet and an American singer-songwriter. The latter was by far the best. On how her similarity to Van Gogh makes her understand suffering: "He cut his ear off; sometimes I shave without soap." Although much of her other material trod on common ground, Evans's performance style, strong accent work and flat-out likability serve the piece well.
In the sketch show Two Episodes of MASH, Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan take deadpan comedy to new heights by treating madly absurd situations as daily occurrences. Walking onstage in a helmet and black cape, Wilkinson approaches Morgan calmly, asking, "Excuse me, miss, you haven't seen a massively large cannon around here, have you?" The show has no throughline, but it really doesn't need one; almost all of the 11 scenes were inventive and very funny. Wilkinson and Morgan both have superior timing, wrenching laughs out of the smallest unexpected moments. Their subdued style wins by subverting your expectations; I anticipate big things from them—hopefully on that one they'll follow through.
When I told a friend this morning that I'd seen Andrew Lawrence, she responded, "Oh, he's the weird one, right?" Also, Chortle has called his show "freakish." It's possible that I have a different definition than they do, but I found myself wishing Lawrence's show, Don't Just Do Something, Sit There, were far stranger than it was. The comic employs sick humor to get his point across. For example, he peppers the show with self-deprecating jokes about his appearance; he's pixieish, pale and strawberry blond. Comparing himself to a sex offender or an elderly lady on life support wasn't necessarily…creative. However, saying that he could never be gay because "with a cock up my ass, I'd just look like one of those trolls you put on the end of a pencil" is weird in the most delightful way.